Why is Mount Washington so windy?
Located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Mount Washington is extremely windy and once held the record for the strongest winds.
Okay, so we know it is windy, but the real question is, “Why is it so windy on Mount Washington?”
Is it because of its location? Or is it something else? Exactly what is behind its gusty conditions and bad weather?
Mount Washington is so windy due to the wind tunnel effect, temperature inversion, and other meteorological and topographical characteristics.
Why is Mount Washington So Windy?
Mount Washington in New Hampshire, United States, is well-known for its severe climate, especially high winds.
The Mount Washington Observatory registered a record-breaking wind gust of 231 miles per hour in 1934.
While not the tallest mountain in the world or North America, Mount Washington is an important meteorological landmark.
Fact: In 1784, while surveyors were surveying the area, they gave Mount Washington the name "Washington" in honor of the first President of the United States.
What Makes Mount Washington Windy?
Several variables play a big role in the high winds on Mount Washington.
Some of them include:
- Jet Stream
- Temperature Inversion
- Wind Tunnel Effect
The relative height of the mountain to its surroundings also has a role in the wind.
Also, the location of Washington in the range’s epicenter means that all storms are directed toward the state’s highest point.
When air moves over the top of the mountain, it is compressed between the mountain and the tropopause.
The term “Venturi effect” describes this phenomenon.
Here is a bit more about the most important factors leading to gusty conditions on Mount Washington:
Location and Topography
Mount Washington lies at the convergence of numerous wind currents and storm systems.
Due to its position in the northeastern United States, it is subject to the influence of both the warm and humid oceanic air masses from the Atlantic and the cold and dry continental air masses from the interior of North America.
When these two types of air collide, it sets the stage for intense weather systems and high winds to form.
An Important Consideration
Mount Washington’s location in the windy White Mountains—a subrange of the much windier Appalachian Mountains—also plays a role.
Elevation and topographic differences encountered by air as it travels across the landscape can affect the wind’s direction and speed.
Fact: Mount Washington and the surrounding mountains have extremely steep and rocky slopes, which cause air to quickly climb and increase wind speed and turbulence.
The Jet Stream
In the upper atmosphere, between 20,000 and 50,000 feet, there is a fast-moving band of air known as the jet stream.
It is pivotal in the formation of weather patterns and its location can have a major effect on the winds felt on the ground.
Due to its proximity to the polar jet stream, Mount Washington experiences very mild winters.
This results in strong upper-level winds over the region, which, under the correct conditions, can provide robust surface winds.
A temperature inversion develops when warmer air rises over colder air near the surface.
These inversions can cause chilly air to become trapped in valleys and low-lying places, while warm air rises over the surrounding mountains.
Mount Washington is prone to experiencing strong upslope winds due to temperature inversions, which cause warmer air to be pushed upwards by the colder, denser air below.
The peak wind speeds can increase due to this occurrence.
Katabatic winds are the result of cold, denser air moving from higher elevations to lower.
Due to its location near the White Mountains, Mount Washington is especially vulnerable to katabatic winds.
The accumulation of cold air on the mountain sides makes the air heavier and denser, so it naturally flows downhill due to the force of gravity.
Because of the way that valleys and mountain slopes can concentrate and focus these winds, they can become extremely strong and gusty at the peak.
Wind Tunnel Effect
The wind tunnel effect contributes significantly to the high winds on Mount Washington.
Forcing wind into a small route, like a valley or a crack between mountain ranges, causes the wind to pick up speed as it makes its way through the area.
This effect is particularly well-suited to the steep slopes of Mount Washington and the harsh landscape of the nearby White Mountains.
The complex mountain topography creates a network of natural wind tunnels that direct and strengthen the wind as it blows through them.
As a result, the peak of Mount Washington is frequently subject to extremely strong gusts of wind.
Fact: The Mount Washington Cog Railway, which has been operational since 1869, is the world's second-steepest mountain-climbing train at a maximum gradient of 37%.
Forcing air to rise over a mountain or other elevated terrain, known as orographic lift, causes it to cool and condense into clouds and precipitation.
Mount Washington is an ideal site for orographic lift because of its height and the surrounding terrain.
Up high in the mountains, the air cools and condenses, bringing with it the possibility of precipitation.
This procedure not only increases wind speeds but also contributes to the extreme weather conditions on Mount Washington.
Forcing air upwards, hilly topography generates a low-pressure zone close to the ground.
In order to fill the void, the air around this area of low pressure rushes up the slopes, increasing the wind speed.
Other Windier Places Like Mount Washington
It is true that Mount Washington is extremely windy, but it is not the only place with such gusty conditions.
Here are some other notable mentions as well:
It stands to reason that the world’s tallest peak would be a magnet for severe weather, but why exactly?
At the peak of Everest, winds can reach 225 kilometers per hour.
Everest’s altitude is around 8,848 meters, which is why it sticks out far below the level of the jet stream.
It is possible to experience a calm day at the summit because the jet stream does not always pass directly overhead.
Fact: Most summit attempts occur within a specific period in May, when the likelihood of the jet stream passing directly overhead is minimal.
If there is ever a sport where the wind is your ally, it is windsurfing.
Professional windsurfers think Gruissan, France may be one of the windiest spots for the sport because of its consistent, strong winds, which draw in these players.
The wind at the Defi Wind event in Gruissan, France, peaked at 78 Knots.
Therefore, it is safe to say that it is one of the windiest places in the world to enjoy windsurfing.
Pistol River, located in Curry County, Oregon, is a popular destination for windsurfers seeking challenging waves.
In fact, the American Windsurfing Tour thinks so highly of the Pistol River Wave Bash that it holds it annually in June.
Because of its seclusion and natural beauty, the Pistol River is one of people’s favorite places.
Extremely few individuals are up for venturing into the open ocean, but the breathtaking scenery is well worth the risk.
Since there is no land to slow down the wind, Antarctica frequently experiences some of the fiercest winds on Earth.
Many explorers have encountered winds of up to 320 kph while venturing into Commonwealth Bay.
The South Pole is around 2,800 meters above sea level because of the massive ice sheet covering it.
The Antarctic coasts of this sheet gradually descend to sea level.
Downslope winds, known as katabatic winds, originate on cold, sloping surfaces.
In areas where geography leads them to converge, these can reach speeds of 25 mph or more over long distances.
Fact: A weather observatory, in use since 1932, sits atop Mount Washington and collects vital information about local weather conditions and trends.
Why is Mount Washington so windy?
The mountain’s geography, topography, and weather all play a role in creating Mount Washington’s notoriously high wind speeds.
Its proximity to the jet stream, its unusual topography, and its position at the intersection of major storm tracks and air masses all contribute to the rapid acceleration and intensification of winds at the peak.
Other factors include, orographic lift, temperature inversions, and the wind tunnel effect. They can all add to the already impressive gusts of wind felt up top.